As the state of California prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of James Marshall's discovery of gold in John Sutter's millrace, Santa Clarita Valley residents didn't want anyone to forget where California's first documented gold discovery was made six years earlier: right here in Placerita Canyon.
One of those local residents was Ernie Hickson, owner of the Placeritos movie ranch (which was renamed Melody Ranch after Gene Autry bought the place). So, in 1948, Hickson ordered up a batch of medals from the Los Angeles Stamp & Stationery Co. (commonly known as Los Angeles Rubber Stamp Co., its name prior to 1935). L.A. Rubber Stamp manufactured most of the merchant tokens that were popular throughout the American West at the time.
Hickson's medals read "FIRST GOLD DISCOVERY / PLACERITA CANYON / 1842" with a miner's pick, shovel, pan and scales and the date, 1948, on one side. The other side bore the words, "NEWHALL, CALIFORNIA / OAK OF THE GOLDEN DREAM" and a likeness of the famous tree — which you can see when you visit the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. It's about a quarter-mile west of the park entrance, adjacent to Placerita Creek.
Hickson must have ordered and reordered the tokens, because they are known in three original varieties — bronze (or bronze alloy), brass, and gilt (gold-washed) bronze or brass. Considering their survival rates today, he must have ordered a couple thousand of them.
There is a fourth and rarer variety: a uniface "Anillo restrike" in aluminum, made in 1968 (explanation below).
To publicize the Placerita gold discovery, Hickson sent his 1842/1948 medals to politicians and museums. The rest he sold for 25 cents apiece trough an agent — Henry "Hank" Dreher, who ran the American Theatre on Spruce Street.
Hickson was, or quickly became, an old pro at ordering medals from L.A. Rubber Stamp. He had tokens made in 5, 10, 25 and 50 cent denominations for the Fourth of July celebrations held at his movie ranch in 1949, 1950 and 1951. They came to be known as "Slippery Gulch tokens" in acknowledgement of the persona his ranch assumed for the occasion.
Hickson may also have been responsible for the similarly denominated Newhall Old West Association tokens that were used when Independence Day was celebrated in grand style at the French Village. The Fourth was celebrated at the French Village in 1948 before moving to Hickson's Ranch, and it returned there following Hickson's death in January 1952. We know the Newhall Old West tokens were used in 1952-53; we don't know if they were used in 1948, but so many of them were made that there was ample supply for all those years. Hickson might have ordered them by the thousands in 1948.
(Note: A "token" is a coin-like issue that bears a stated value, be it a denomination or "Good For One Beer." A "medal" has no stated value.)
Postscript: In 1968, Anillo Industries of Orange, Calif., purchased the inventory of Los Angeles Stamp & Stationery Co. and struck uniface (one-sided) aluminum examples from that company's 3,492 original dies, including this Placerita gold discovery medal. It is believed that only four sets of the restrikes were made, although one source puts the number of Anillo restrikes at 25 each.
Click to enlarge.
The Signal | Thursday, July 1, 1948.
Ernie Hickson, out at Placeritos Movie street, is what you might call a live number. He is all the time figuring smart angles. He is a gent who bubbles with ideas.
One time, befo' de wah, we had an opportunity to visit the museum at Ernie's street and inspect his collection of potato mashers.
Hung on a wire the full length of the museum was an unbroken line of potato mashers, of all sizes, shapes, colors and ages. It was a stirring, even a smashing sight.
Another time we went out there and what should we see but two — count 'em, two — old Washington hand-presses — the kind that printed newspapers one page at a lick through the united exertions of four strong men and a boy.
Perhaps you have seen his latest idea — maybe you even have a sample in your pocket—
The Placerita gold discovery medal.
Ernie had an artist work out a design, then had a lot of them struck off. About the size of a half dollar, the "heads" is a representation of the Oak of the Golden Dreams. The "tails" is crossed shovel and miner's pick, with a miner's pan and gold scales and the date 1842, the year Don Francisco pulled up the auriferous (price $3.98) wild onions.
The medal is made of some kind of alloy metal that suggests deep, rich, red gold.
Hank Dreher, American Theatre impresario, is Ernie's sales agent. This week Hank took a pocket full down and gave samples to all the County Supervisors. Medals will also be sent to museums and historical societies all over the country, to remind future generations when and where the very first California gold was discovered.
The big town papers wouldn't give Hank any publicity on the medal because he is selling 'em at two bits a crack.
The Towerman has no scruples, and hereby urges you to try and get one before the supply is exhausted.
Wonder what Ernie will think up next?